Garda Down Under: Leaving Ireland to fight crime in the outback

Better pay and conditions, easy transfers, sunshine and travel opportunities have lured dozens of former gardaí to Western Australia

 

Over 25,000 Irish people now live in Western Australia, and among them are dozens of former gardaí who are followed in a new RTÉ series that documents their lives down under.

Better pay and conditions, easy transfers, sunshine and travel opportunities are just some of the reasons that people move to tackle crime in bustling cities such as Perth, and remote desert areas in the outback.

Joe Connolly from Tallaght in Dublin moved to Perth last August after the reality of the Haddington Road Agreement began to sink in.

“You had to do 30 hours a year for free... When I was first planning to come over here to do my assessments, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted it but then there was a token protest before the Dáil was due back after recess,” he told The Irish Times this week.

“It was nothing major but there was a bit of trouble at it. I was pushed, threatened to have a brick thrown in my face and my family burnt out of their home, all because I was a Garda doing my job. And I was basically doing that for free. That was the tip of the iceberg. I thought, ‘if I get this job I’m going to go with it’.”

Connolly now works in a in a response hub which covers a large area of Perth, in a policing model that contrasts sharply with the Garda Síochána’s.

“Our station is basically like a warehouse with an office and locker rooms. There’s no access to the public, no sign to say it’s a police station... In this response hub if somebody calls, we go and deal with it as much as we can there and then. If it means arresting them, interviewing them, charging them, we’ll do it all and if we can’t deal with it then before the end of our shift we’ll create the file and send it off to the local station, where an investigating officer will take it over. Most of your paperwork you’d finish it before the day is out.”

Because of the large metropolitan area he covers, Connolly works on all type of crimes, from drug offences, to public order issues and domestic violence. Moving to Perth gave him the opportunity to do a lot more hands-on police work than he was doing Dublin.

“Before I left Pearse Street, I was doing a lot of protection posts up in Dáil Éireann. It’s been good to get back out on the street again, and there’re good opportunities here if you work and put in the effort.”

One of the biggest opportunities is the availability of transfers, which are incredibly hard to come by in Ireland. Michael Henderson, who loved working as a Garda but left because of his travel bug, has worked in six different stations since he moved to Western Australia in 2006.

“Every week there’s a vacancy list and you put in your application. People don’t stay in places for more than four years, whereas in Ireland your station is usually yours for your full career. There’s a massive difference.”

The 34-year-old from Templemore in Co Tipperary now works in a station 5,000km from Perth in Kununurra, a popular tourist town in far north Western Australia.

“The area we cover is probably the size of Munster. Ninety per cent of the people we deal with are Aboriginals and there a lot of alcohol related issues; lots of violence, stabbings, assaults. We have no major crime gangs, but we get a couple of murders a year. Recently we had a few stabbings where people have died as a result.”

In contrast to Connolly’s experience of the force in Perth, the Kununurra police often find their resources stretched.

“On a night shift three staff work from 10pm to 6am. One officer and two staff on the road. There’s no calling for back-up. We sometimes go to large disturbances and we could have 100 or more people at a party fighting in the street; that’s a common occurrence on a Friday night. For back-up we have to ring the station and they have to get people out of bed, so the back-up takes however long it takes to get out of bed, get the kit on, and get out to us.”

Both men love the opportunities that moving to Western Australia has brought, and have no intention of moving home any time soon.

“It’s been a new lease of life for me,” says Connolly. “It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s the way of life out here; it’s a lot more relaxed and laid back. The weather is fantastic and the outdoor lifestyle suits me as well. I haven’t looked back.”

Henderson, who is marrying his fiancée and work partner, Sarah, in three weeks, can’t see any reason to move home either.

“Even speaking to my colleagues in the guards, I couldn’t see myself coming back and working the way that they are working at the moment. I just have it too good here with the police. I’m here at least for the next ten years.”

Garda Down Under begins on RTÉ 1 on Wednesday September 2nd at 8.30pm.

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